Community Members Participate in Strategic Planning Retreat to Help Shape Future

By Michael Reese, Blaine Hill, Bryan Herrmann, Troy Goodnough, Eric Buchanan, and McKenzie Dice

March 2019

As we look at our children and grandchildren, how many of us wonder what they may experience in their lifetime and what the future may hold for them?  A group of thirty-five Morris and Stevens County community members participated in a strategic planning retreat on October 29th and 30th at Camp Ripley to set goals and brain storm a list of one hundred project ideas that could help shape that future.  The University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center partnered with the City of Morris and the University of Minnesota, Morris to help organize this effort.  The retreat was funded through a community planning grant from the West Central Initiative.       

Morris model retreatThe City of Morris is one of five communities across the state that is participating in the Climate Smart Municipalities (CSM) program through the University of Minnesota. The CSM program pairs Minnesota communities with communities in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. Morris is partnered with Saerbeck, Germany.  Saerbeck, a small, rural community like Morris, is a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency and was the first winner of the prestigious European Energy Prize. The City of Morris, the university, county, hospital, the public school system, and area businesses are all involved in what has been labeled the Morris Model. In order to develop goals, brainstorm potential projects, and build community consensus; a Morris Community Climate Smart Municipality Strategic Planning Retreat was held for a couple days in late October, 2018. Many community organizations and businesses were represented at the event.  Participants at the retreat were presented with the following charge and vision:

Your charge is to actively participate in developing community and organizational goals which will lead to energy, waste reduction and recycling, transportation, and related educational projects.  We ask for your leadership in pursuing these goals and projects for the betterment of our community.”

Our vision is for the Morris community to be nationally recognized as an innovation leader in energy, transportation, and waste reduction and recycling. By leading in these areas, we hope to drive a more robust and vibrant economy within our agricultural and manufacturing sectors creating new businesses, jobs, and wealth for our community. Through this process, our community will become more economically and environmentally resilient.  We hope to achieve this vision by:

  • Producing all energy locally keeping more money within our community,
  • Providing greater opportunities for local ownership of energy production,
  • Inspiring a new conservation ethic for saving energy and reducing waste,
  • Developing innovative educational programming for students and all community members, and
  • Becoming a destination for those wanting to learn and for businesses wanting to participate. 

Finally, we wish to follow the lead of our partner city, Saerbeck, Germany. Saerbeck is a European and global energy, environmental, and climate protection leader.”              

The retreat included presentations from various public and private sector organizations across the community outlining their current energy, waste reduction, and recycling efforts.

Jason GreinerIn an effort to identify the current baseline energy use, Ben Erickson, GreenCorps Member for the City of Morris, and Mickey Cotter, Renewable Energy Scientist, U of MN West Central Research and Outreach Center, outlined energy consumption on a city and farm level across Stevens County. The presentations estimated that the Morris community and Stevens County consume approximately $110 million of energy or energy derived products each year. Of this amount, farming operations account for over 80% of the energy consumed.  Jason Greiner, Ottertail Power, describes utility's efforts on efficiency and reneable generation (pictured right). A key takeaway was that our community can capture value and develop more wealth by conserving energy and producing energy on a local level.  This could also lead to more businesses, industries, and other secondary benefits. 

Based on the results of the retreat, a strategic plan including community and organizational goals was developed.  Access the strategic plan. The next step will be for organizations within the community to ratify the goals. The goals will then serve as a roadmap for ongoing and future projects. The overarching goals are very ambitious and instill a sense of urgency to move forward quickly. 

The big goals are:    

1. Produce 80% of the energy consumed in the county by 2030

2. Reduce energy consumption 30% by 2030

3. No land-filling of waste generated within the county by 2025

Sub-level community and organizational goals were developed at the retreat to support these overarching goals.  The community goals are:

Community Energy Goals:

1.      Reduce energy consumption 5% annually with a minimum reduction of 30% by 2030. 

2.      Expand solar generation to 50% of public buildings and 25% of privately-owned homes.

3.      Using renewable energy, produce 80% of the community’s energy needs by 2030 with strong community investment and participation.

Community Transportation Goals:

1.      Reduce fossil fuel consumption 30% by 2025 with strategies for public and private fleets. 

2.      Establish baseline fossil fuel consumption and then include on-going monitoring

Community Waste Reduction and Recycling Goals:

1.      Eliminate organics in waste streams

2.      Achieve 60% diversion from landfills to recycle and composting

Community Education Goals:

1.      Raise awareness through a K-12 curriculum

2.      Develop semi-annual scorecard and communicate results

3.      Develop strategies for effective communication and volunteer programs

To begin this journey into the future, the Morris city council unanimously ratified these goals at the city council meeting on February 26th. Many residents of the Morris community are also deeply engaged, but more champions and volunteers are needed.  Each organization and resident can contribute in unique ways to improve our community. As Blaine Hill noted at the end of the retreat after listening to the presentation about E-85 production at the local DENCO II ethanol plant, “It is truly remarkable that I can purchase E-85 fuel for my vehicle that was produced here in town using corn from Stevens County, and the E-85 fuel is delivered directly from the plant to our local gas stations. The money never leaves the community!  Think about the economic impact of keeping those dollars local!  And we can do the same for the other energy we consume as well.”